UN investigator slams ‘aggressive’ behaviour of UK Government towards her

“It was the first time a government has been so aggressive. When I was in the USA, I had a constructive conversation with them accepting some things and arguing with others. They did not react like this.”

UN Housing investigator, Raquel Rolnik,  slams the ‘aggressive’ behaviour of  the UK Government towards her.

In memory of the humble audio cassette tape

TDK MA-X / Type IV / Metal audio cassette

Saturday 7th September was the first International Cassette Store Day. Its organisers described it as “a celebration of a physical product that is accessible, fun, cheap and still going strong in the turbulent current musical climate.” The day saw  a number of limited edition albums released on cassette, and modern classic albums re-released too.

My Tapes

I adored the TDK MA cassette tapes (pictured). I had  a fantastic SONY three head recorder with bias adjustment helper and Dolby-S bought circa 1994. (I still have it actually and it’s as good as new!)

With a fresh metal tape, bias adjusted, dolby S on and using the third head monitoring, you could push the signal really high achieving a wonderful audio signal saturation level that is hard to beat. They just played back with such life on any type of cassette player too, including car radio cassette players!

I used to record a lot of mates’ CDs on to tape for them because they loved the sound quality I could achieve. The tape saturation  brought a life and clarity to music that seems to be missing from a lot of digital music, and even pre-recorded analogue music as well.

Before the ease of hard-disk and digital recording, most of my compositions, MIDI sequences and keyboard improvisation moments were all recorded to the TDK type IV metal cassettes too. I’m slowly revisiting all these and archiving them digitally to share online (see the list under Music).

Sony three head cassette deck with Dobly S.

Tape Saturation in a Digital Age

Those familiar with digital recording of any kind will recognise the life-ending sound that is almost worse than fingers down a black-board: digital clipping. Once a digital signal has clipped, there is rarely anything known to man or gods that can be done to rectify that audio recording.

The analogue audio concept is based on physical electrical voltage current alternations which convey an electrical wave form analogous to the sound pressure wave form, hence being called analogue. In this domain, clipping becomes an electrically relative term that depends on the input and output capabilities of the components of the ‘chain’ or system. There comes a point of overloading, where the power of the electrical signal is too much to handle and the signal, and thus the quality of the audio it is analogous to alters.

The distortion associated with clipping is often unwanted, and is visible on an oscilloscope even if it is inaudible. However there are times when it is wanted for creative reasons, such as with the electric guitar or the distorted vocal effect etc. But there is also another reason, which I mentioned  earlier when talking about recording CDs to tapes.

As the signal level increases, tape approaches a saturation point where no further signal variations can be recorded. This is signal saturation, an inherent flaw in the accuracy of magnetic tape as a recording medium. However, unlike digital recording techniques, where analogue to digital converters in audio interfaces suddenly and aggressively ‘clip’ as the signal exceeds its maximum level, analogue tape breaks down in a less predictable manner. The result is distortion and compression which behaves in a unevenly with regard to signal level, frequency and dynamic range. (Or, in a non-linear way for the techno-bables.)

Ironically, the ‘break down’ and soft-clipping of tape saturation sounds pretty appealing to most people, and recording engineers realised that the pleasant distortion and compression characteristics of saturation could be used as a mix tool, making individual tracks sound more punchy, helping to ‘glue’ elements together and even making entire mixes sound bigger and richer.

Recreating the Warmth of Tape

Most people use Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software these days, such as Logic and Pro Tools. Many studios, and live engineers, are recording and mixing with digital audio consoles (a few studios have kept the analogue desks of old, but they generally are massive beasts and prone to breaking down with heavy usage.) Introducing”analogue warmth” to your digital sounding mix is the subject of hundreds of articles all over the net, but there are three basic solutions.

  1. Use a DAW plug-in. They range widely in price and quality. Essentially, digital algorithms try to model the effect of signal saturation.
  2. Use a three-head cassette recorder. Just chain an output bus to the input of the tape deck (like the SONY model I have) and route the ‘monitor’ output back in to your DAW. Use a fresh tape, fast forward to about 2 mins in, follow the bias adjust setup, then record your mix via the tape (recording, set to monitor, and volume adjusted as high as sounds pleasing – you may have to manually adjust too) and record the result either live back in to DAW or replay the tape.
  3. Use a Gyraf Audio Gyratec Infundibululm. It will only set you back £3360 and is tested and reviewed in this months Sound on Sound magazine. It is a completely mains-free passive device, so no electrical interference from mains, and is actually rather brilliant. Admittedly, it’s top level pro kit at that price, but there really is nothing like it out there.

What’s it sound like?

Sound on Sound have provided some audio examples of their test with the Gyraterwatsityfidliumthingy, on their website: http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/sep13/articles/gyrafg21-media.htm

Tory criticism of UN report on UK social housing policies

You would be hard pressed to have missed the controversy that Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, seems to have caused on her mission to examine the effects of the bedroom tax on the people of the UK.

Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party (or ‘Michael Green’, or whatever he is calling himself today) made assertions on the morning of 11th September that:

  • Raquel wasn’t invited by the government;
  • she didn’t visit government offices;
  • and she did not use the proper terms for government policies.

These points were proved wrong by the afternoon in Raquel Rolnik’s press statement.  In no uncertain terms.

I have been following the detail of the “tax” since the beginning; I have read her report (linked above); I have heard  the governments petulant response. Far be it from me to call Right Honourable Members of Parliament liars, or even to accuse them of untruths. But let’s look at the UN statement.

Uninvited?

At the top of her report, Raquel says, “From 29 August to 11 September 2013, I undertook an official visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the invitation of the Government.”

Round One: Raquel (of the UN).

Ignored Government?

Straight away the report say, “I wish to start this statement by expressing my gratitude to the various Government Departments, for the cooperation and hospitality extended to us during the organization and throughout the development of this fact-finding visit. ”

Pretty clear. But just incase you were still in any doubt:

“I have had the opportunity to meet with numerous Government officials, including some Ministers. In England I met with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Department for International Development and the Manchester City Council. I also met with officials from the Department of Housing and Regeneration from the Welsh Government.

“In Scotland, I met with the Scottish Government, including the Housing Services and Regeneration, the Housing Supply, the Homelessness and Equality Policy Departments; and with the Scottish National Housing authorities and Planning and Architecture Division. In Northern Ireland, I had the opportunity to meet with the Department for Social Development, and with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.”

Round Two: Raquel (of the UN). Not looking as if the government are being all that honest so far. So now on to:

Proper Terms?

Of all the criticism of their housing policy, this seems to be the one that riles them the most. It goes something along the lines of, “It’s not called the bedroom tax! It’s called the ‘Under occupancy penalty’ (sometimes they say it’s a charge or reduction.) We didn’t call it a tax, so it’s not a tax!” An so on, ad hominem.

Firstly, let’s look at the direct point: did she use the ‘correct terms’?

“Especially worrisome in this package is the so-called “bedroom tax”, or the spare bedroom under occupancy penalty.”

So, she did use the term ‘bedroom tax’! Hang on though, she prefaces it with “so-called” and then goes on to use its Government sanctioned name. (It get’s petty doesn’t it when the government dismiss your criticism because you use the wrong name, even if it is politically charged name.) Shapps’ complaint to the UN secretary general will come to nothing because he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Now for the detail of what this policy is regardless of its name.
The amounts of so-called “subsidy” removed from a persons benefit are not negligible to those on benefit, as it in many cases it amounts to a reduction of around 35% of what is a very small income.

Shockingly, the Government policy seems to be about efficient reallocation of housing resource on a national scale, moving people and families around like a theoretical big puzzle to be solved with zero regard for family, social or community ties, responsibilities, suitability, job availability, and children’s education, together with the upheaval caused and the Scarce provision of small properties at affordable rents.

The policy treats people inhumanly on every level possible. She is right to point out that the basic human right to affordable shelter “is not at any cost” – the cost being that which I outlined above – and the government has a duty under human rights laws not to retrograde its provisions in meeting the law, but to seek ways to always improve.

Let’s be clear. A right under law isn’t self entitlement, it is a right. And all have a right to affordable shelter, something that doesnt exist in this country. Society through the structures of the rule of law and government must always make sure those less well off are looked after as right, and not as charity, for it we are all peers, and should be dignified with rights as opposed to begging or being left destitute.

However, one thing remains true, and no amount of government bluster and spite can alter basic logic.

A penalty that is unavoidable by most is a tax by any other name.